The issue of age and stem cell function is all over the map. You can find studies that purport to show that age makes a huge difference and other studies that seem to show it makes no or little difference in stem cell function or potency. Our own clinical data from our advanced treatment registry shows that it depends on what you’re treating. For example, age doesn’t seem to have an effect when using stem cells to treat knee arthritis, but older age does have an effect when the target problem is hip arthritis.
A new study sought to the answer this question for patients who might get adipose stem cells for heart disease. The authors isolated fat stem cells from 31 patients aged 2-81 years old. They then looked at the ability of the cells to differentiate into fat cells and bone, which all patient samples could accomplish. They noted that the fat stem cells from older patients had shorter telomeres (the “clock” at the end of the DNA strand that only allows only so many copies to be made). This meant that these cells were biologically older and closer to a state where they could no longer keep dividing. The ability of the growth factors capable of telling the body to produce new blood vessels (an important thing for a heart disease patient) was less in the older fat stem cells. This didn’t seem to be because older fat stem cells produced less growth factors, but because they produced more chemicals that deactivated these same growth factors.
The upshot? For the lab metrics that would define the ability of fat stem cells to help someone grow new blood vessels, age did seem to make a difference. Whether this translates into a less clinical efficacy is unknown.